11 July 2022

Labour seeks amendment on Schools Bill following Government U-turn

11 July 2022

Labour has said it will amend the Schools Bill to ensure all state schools follow the national curriculum, following a “humiliating U-turn” from Nadhim Zahawi on his plans for academies.

Last month, former education secretary Mr Zahawi removed large sections of the Schools Bill following concerns in the House of Lords that the Bill would undermine academies’ autonomy.

“As the Conservatives turn on one another, and following former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s humiliating U-turn on his plans to run schools from Whitehall, Labour is pushing ahead with plans to put children first,” the Labour party said.

It has tabled an amendment to the Bill for all state schools to follow the national curriculum, follow local admissions policies and ensure that all academy teachers have qualified teacher status.

Labour said that its plans developed its commitment for all schools to receive professional careers advice, as well as a minimum of two weeks’ worth of work experience for all pupils.

It added that it would require national standards for school support staff, such as teaching assistants, as the Bill had not mentioned wider school staff.

Labour said it was “seizing the initiative as the Government splinters into infighting over the Conservative leadership contest”, adding that Mr Zahawi had been “forced to abandon the Government’s plans for central control over academies in the face of opposition from all parties”.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “Labour’s ambitious plans would drive up standards across all schools and set minimum standards regardless of the type of school a child attends.

“Unlike the Conservatives’ chaotic, ill thought through proposals which they’ve been forced to abandon, Labour’s plans have the support of headteachers, school staff and parliamentarians.

“The Conservatives will have the chance to support these plans to improve outcomes for children. As their chaotic U-turn showed, even before their bitter infighting the Conservatives had no plan, no ambition and no vision: they are failing our children.”

The amendment aims to replace Clause 1 of the Bill, which was removed by the Government.

The clause proposed standardised regulations over multi-academy trusts, with Government control over the quality of education provided, the welfare of pupils and the minimum qualifications required for teaching staff.

Currently, academy schools can employ teachers who have not undergone formal teacher training.

In a letter to the Lords in June, academies minister Baroness Barran said that the Government would be removing clauses 1 to 4 and Schedule 1 of the Bill, which would have introduced new standards that all academies would need to follow.

These aspects of the Bill had been sharply criticised in the Lords, with former academies ministers Lord Nash and Lord Agnew, alongside former education secretary Lord Baker, tabling amendments to the Bill over their concerns that academies would lose their freedoms under the new, “draconian” provisions.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are already driving up standards across the country and have set out our further ambitions through our Schools White Paper – on which we engaged extensively with the sector.

“This includes teacher training and development, supporting schools and trusts with excellence in the curriculum, behaviour and attendance, and working towards every school joining a strong academy trust by 2030.

“The Schools Bill – which is vital in levelling up standards for children across the country – will continue its passage through parliament, and we will bring back revised clauses 1-18 in the Commons.”

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